Monday, October 3, 2011
The Grief of Others: A Novel by Leah Hager Cohen
It begins with loss. John ad Ricky Ryrie are stricken by the death of their third child only fifty-seven hours after his birth. Struggling to regain a semblance of normalcy, they find themselves pretending not only that little has changed, but that nothing was wrong before this baby came so briefly into their lives. Yet in the aftermath of his death, long-suppressed uncertainties about their relationship come roiling to the surface. A terrible secret emerges concerning what Ricky knew about her pregnancy and concealed from everyone, even John. And the couple's two older children, struggling to understand the tensions around them, begin to act out in their own idiosyncratic ways. Ultimately, though, the grief that was initially so isolating allows the four family members to connect powerfully with the sadness and burdens of others - to the grief that is part of every human life and has within it the power to draw us together.
This is a sad and rather depressing book. It tells the story of the Ryrie's difficult and heartbreaking loss of their third child - a son who lived for 57 hours after being born with anencephaly. Reeling from this devastating loss, the family find themselves grieving individually and disconnecting from one another. Ricky and John (the parents) try to pretend to move forward with their lives by continuing to work and presenting a united front to those around them. Meanwhile, their children, Paul and Biscuit, are having to deal with this loss all on their own. They don't truly comprehend what happened to their baby brother, but have no one to talk with about it. And they can't help but notice the mounting tension growing bigger and bigger every day between their parents. You see, Ricky has been keeping a huge secret and when it finally comes to light, John can no longer look at her the same way. And soon, we are privy to a set of lies that has been looming over this family for years and has finally come out to either break them apart or bring them closer.
This is definitely a difficult book to get through, because you don't care for any of the characters. Well, except for Paul and Biscuit. Kids shouldn't be left to deal with grief all on their own, especially when they are unable to fully understand what has even happened. I suppose it just goes to show how selfish Ricky and John could be - ignorant of the pain and sadness enveloping their children's lives.
Overall, this was a well written book about the topic of grief and how it is handled within a family. I felt that Cohen explored the different ways people deal with loss superbly. She created characters that were unlikeable, but fully developed and quite realistically flawed. The tone and flow of the story was slow and depressing, which fit in perfectly with the story lines. And the fact that the book was difficult to get through shows just how engaging it was to read, even though it took a toll on your emotions. Definitely a book I would recommend.